While the World Championship is generally known in North America as “the tournament for players who won’t win the Stanley Cup this year,” the 2011 edition actually has some intriguing prospect angles, thanks to the youth on several teams. The Memorial Cup already has half its bracket decided too, thanks to Owen Sound facing host Mississauga in the Ontario League final. With an eye on these events and more, here’s a look at some of the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Rocco Grimaldi, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Although he stands just 5-foot-6, Grimaldi is a big-time player and one whom scouts aren’t going to let their GMs wait on come draft day. He led Team USA in scoring this season with 34 goals and 62 points in 50 games, playing mostly on a line with J.T. Miller and Reid Boucher.
“I use my speed really well,” Grimaldi said. “I try to play a skill game and make my teammates better.”
A California kid who went east to Michigan to play for the vaunted Little Caesar’s program, Grimaldi is a Detroit Red Wings fan and counts Pavel Datsyuk as one of several players he tries to learn from.
“I’ve been a Red Wings fan all my life,” he said. “I just love watching them, I love how they play puck possession.”
A tireless worker off the ice, Grimaldi is known for his dedication in both practice and the weight room. His team has been successful internationally this year and just took home gold at the World Under-18 Championship. Familiarity within the two-year NTDP program certainly helps.
“Last year was really important for us,” he said, “because you get to build relationships with the guys.”
That chemistry has resulted in a good amount of gold – and Grimaldi’s not done yet. Though his Canadian League rights are owned by powerhouse Portland, he’s adamant he will be attending the University of North Dakota next year. Draft eligible in 2011.
Mikael Granlund, C – HIFK (Fin.)
Always a standout in international play, Granlund usually shines among his own age group. But right now, the smart playmaker is punching above his weight class at the worlds in Slovakia, earning three points in Finland’s first two games to rank second on the squad. Drafted ninth overall by Minnesota in 2010.
Taylor Beck, RW – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
The Admirals have brought a score of exciting young rookies into the fold for the playoffs including Beck, Ryan Ellis and Austin Watson. Beck, formerly a high-scoring power forward with Guelph of the OHL, has two goals through six post-season games with Milwaukee. Drafted 70th overall by Nashville in 2009.
Maxime Clermont, G – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Since a rough game to start the ‘Q’ playoffs, Clermont has really settled into a nice groove. Aggressive and technically solid, the young netminder hasn’t given up more than three goals since the third post-season game and now leads the league with a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Drafted 174th overall by New Jersey in 2010.
Chris Kreider, C – Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
The Americans have gone young at the worlds and Kreider is part of that cohort. He is reportedly returning to Boston College for his junior season next year, but playing with future New York Rangers teammate Derek Stepan will at least give the speedy pivot a taste of what’s to come. Kreider has two points in two games in Slovakia. Drafted 19th overall by the New York Rangers in 2009.
Sven Bartschi, LW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
The Hawks are headed to the Western League final and they can thank Bartschi for getting them past a tough Spokane team. The Swiss import plays a highly skilled, determined game and proved it by notching three points in both Game 6 and Game 7 victories. He leads all ‘Dub’ rookies in playoff scoring with 21 points in 16 games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Nick Luukko, D – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
A few eyebrows were raised when Philadelphia, whose president is Peter Luukko, took the boss’ son in the sixth round of the draft last year. But after an unremarkable regular season, the kid has shown his worth in the playoffs. The 6-foot-2 Luukko leads the league in scoring from the blueline with five points in five games. He’s committed to the University of Vermont. Drafted 179th overall by Philadelphia in 2010.
Maxim Kitsyn, LW – Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors
The Russian import can make up for snatching a world junior gold medal from Majors coach Dave Cameron by delivering a Memorial Cup and so far he’s doing a good job. Kitsyn is the only Major scoring at more than a point-per-game pace and has been held off the scoresheet just twice in the post-season. Drafted 158th overall by Los Angeles in 2010.
Scott Stajcer, G – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Playing a defensively tight Mississauga team, Stajcer will have to be at his best. Fortunately, that’s been his calling card lately. Returning from a hip injury, the big netminder has been lights-out for the Attack, losing just once in nine post-season decisions and posting a sizzling 2.08 GAA. Drafted 140th overall by the New York Rangers in 2009.
Scott Oke, LW – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Oke is an intriguing prospect because he’s essentially buried behind three or four probable first-rounders on his own team. But scouts are interested in his scoring potential and, naturally, his size. With five points in 12 playoff games, he’s already put up half the offense he did in the regular season. Draft eligible in 2011.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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